CHICAGO — The city’s controversial Christopher Columbus statues will likely be removed soon, officials said.
The statues in Grant Park and Little Italy have been the subject of high-profile protests in recent weeks — including one Friday in Grant Park where police and protesters violently clashed, leaving dozens of people injured. At that protest, people scaled the statue, threw ropes around it and tried to pull it down.
Ald. Brian Hopkins (2nd) said Mayor Lori Lightfoot told aldermen of her plan to have the statues removed. Initially the removal was to take place Thursday night, but Hopkins said the timeline could not be confirmed. The mayor’s office was not immediately available for comment.
The Tribune first reported on plans to remove the statues.
The news of the pending removals was celebrated at a Thursday night protest on Lightfoot’s block in Logan Square.
Reached late Thursday night, Ald Jason Ervin (28th), who represents Little Italy, said he didn’t know the mayor planned to tear down the Columbus statue in Arrigo Park.
“That’s the first time I’m hearing that,” Ervin said. “…There was no consultation or communication with the community about that.”
The mayor previously was resistant to removing the statues, and in February she said she wouldn’t support changing Columbus Day to Indigenous Peoples Day as a city holiday.
In late June, Lightfoot said she opposed removing Grant Park’s Columbus statue, as well as another one in Little Italy, because they can teach people about the history of the United States.
But Saturday’s clash over the Grant Park statue led to national attention, with Chicagoans questioning why so many police have been ordered to guard the statue amid a spike in gun violence. Police at the protests were accused of assaulting protesters and members of the press, while “vigilantes” were blamed for throwing pipes, bottles and fireworks at police officers.
On Monday, Lightfoot said the city will soon do an “examination” of its monuments to determine who they honor.
Chicago has few statues for Black people and women. Lightfoot said the city needs to “correct that problem.”
“What I’ve said all along is we need to have a process by which we take inventory and stock of all of the various monuments, paintings and other things that memorialize our past and our history,” Lightfoot said. “We need to also understand what isn’t there.”
For years, people have called on the city to remove the Columbus statues, among other monuments. Both Columbus statues have been defaced and have been the subject of protests and disputes numerous times over the years.
Columbus has long been touted as the man who “discovered” America on Oct. 12, 1492 — even though it was already populated. That’s made him a hero among some Italian Americans. But critics have noted Columbus didn’t discover America and his actions led to mass genocide and crimes, including rape and torture, against Indigenous people.
While some Italian Americans in Chicago have defended the statues, others have called for them to come down, saying they are offensive to Indigenous people.
Monuments to other controversial historical figures have been torn down or removed throughout the country as communities rethink who they’re honoring with statues and other memorials.
In Little Italy, there were a lot of thoughtful, “robust conversations” happening between people who wanted to see the statue removed and others who wanted to see it stay, Ervin said. He didn’t know what prompted the mayor’s sudden decision — though he suspects the violent clashes between police and protesters at Grant Park Friday had something to do with it.
The Columbus statue is not the only change made this week. After years of lobbying from students, the Park District voted this week to start the process to rename Douglas Park.
The original name honors Stephen Douglas; it will be changed to Douglass Park in honor of abolitionist Frederick Douglass.
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